‘To what extent is modern-day English the same language as that introduced to the British Isles one and a half millennia ago?’
English is both a changed and an ever-changing language. Since its introduction to the British Isles the very nature of the language, its structure, appearance and uses have undergone remarkable transformations. Comparing transcripts from Old English and its contemporary counterparts, even listening to different generations in the same family, it is clear that English is changing in its written and spoken form. Yet there are clear connections from what we know as “Modern-day English” to the language spoken hundreds of years ago, allowing us to consider them as the same language rather than completely separate languages.
Originally, English was just one language among several spoken in the British Isles when a number of Germanic tribes arrived in Britain from Northern Europe in the fifth century AD. As the tribes became well-established and started spreading across the island over the centuries, the language gradually developed. However, it was still very much a local language spoken by a small section of a small island in Western Europe. (Seargent and Swann 2012)
The earliest passages of written English, known as ‘Old English,’ present a significant number of differences in its form when compared to the language we are accustomed to reading today. Mitchell and Robinson assert Old English was a moderately inflected language, using an extensive case system similar to that of modern German (2001).
Formal English Vs. Modern English (Persuasive Speech) Modern English has become very grammatically incorrect, what I would call ugly, compared to formal English. Nowadays, people use too much slang when speaking or writing casually; sometimes people will even see it in formal letters, speeches or essays, especially from teens. Is there anyone who does not find it exasperating when listening to ...
Linguistic evidence suggests Middle and Modern English lost progressively more of the Old English inflectional system and today there are only eight common inflectional affixes in use. (North, 2012)
Characters such as ȝ, known as ‘yogh’ which was used in place of a y, (Seargent and Swann 2012) we no longer use and the orthography of many words has altered somewhat. The word ‘film’ for example, was spelt ‘philome’ during the seventeenth century, as can be observed from William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (2008).
This also leads to an interesting point relating to how pronunciation has changed over time. The spellings of words, as well as observations made by people who were writing on the language at the time, such as Ben Johnson, (cited in U214, DVD07787, 2.1) both act as supporting evidence for there being a different pronunciation of the English language in Early Modern English. (U214, DVD00787, 2.1 ) This considered, it could be reasonable to expect that the pronunciation of English has changed, not only since Early Modern English, but Old English also.
The language of Shakespeare also lends itself well to showing a great degree of change within the vocabulary of English. There are a great deal of words used in his works which are no longer in common use today. In the phrase ‘this fell sergeant Death, is swift in his arrest’ from Hamlet (Shakespeare, cited in Seargeant and Swann 2012), ‘fell’ is used to mean cruel or ruthless. Despite its obscurity in modern times, the word is still recognisable to most as being English. Furthermore, most of the characters are unchanged, showing a clear historical continuity through the centuries. In addition to the orthography and lexis of the language, there is much evidence concluding changes in semantics. In Old English, for example, ‘wife’ was a term used for the description of any woman rather than specifically a married woman as in the modern-day definition. (Seargent and Swann 2012).
One of the key issues affecting such change in the form of the English language, is the close geographical and social contact it has had with other languages. First from Celtic and Latin influences, later from Scandinavian and Norman French, and more recently from the many other languages spoken in the British colonies, the English language has borrowed freely. In cases of language contact, the dominant language often integrates loanwords into its own language, either to cover concepts for which it has no specific vocabulary of its own, or to give a slightly different nuance or atmosphere. Some of which can retain their foreign feeling, such as ‘cliché,’ while others become so integrated and naturalised that speakers are unaware they are not originally native words, such as ‘steak’ whose origins are Scandinavian (Seargent and Swann 2012).
English is an international language spoken all over the world that was originally borrowed from the world. If English is used as a global language, there might be some advantages related to communication and business. However, there are also several disadvantages in terms of losing mother tongue and taking time and money. The advantages outweigh the disadvantages, so English should be made the ...
English has a rich diversity and a propensity to change. This has resulted in both a variety of forms of English, as discussed above, but also a diversity in the cultural contexts in which the language is used. From its beginnings as a local language of mainland Britain over one and a half millennia ago, it is estimated that English is now spoken by roughly ‘2000 million people, in hundreds of countries.’ (Seargent and Swann 2012) Non-native speakers have undoubtedly had a profound effect upon the use of the language, as have decisions made by institutions such as national governments and education systems (Seargent and Swann 2012).
Britain’s Colonial expansion lent itself to perpetuating further change of the English language. The spread of English speakers in many parts of the world provided a diasporic base for the language which is a significant factor in the adoption of a language as a lingua franca. (Graddol, 2000) In colonial India, for example, Macaulay tried to solve the issue of governing four hundred million people who did not speak a common language by insisting English was taught. Now Hindi is the official language, and English an ‘Associate Official Language,’ which has also prevented political unrest should one or other of the native languages be solely used for governance. (U214, DVD00787, 3.1)
English is now regarded as an ‘International Language’ by many (Seargeant and Swann 2012), being used in a vast array of contexts and by a growing number of people speaking it either as their first, second, or as a foreign language. It’s rise has been closely linked to the rise of the US as a superpower that has spread the English language alongside it’s economic, technological and cultural influence. According to Seargeant and Swann (2012), the rise of ‘New Englishes’ are challenging what we know as ‘Standard English’, as they themselves become standardised. Code-mixing is common among many communities, despite often being viewed negatively in establishments, and is offering rise to the debate of English now becoming a family of languages (Seargeant and Swann).
History of English language will explain, why learning English as a second language is difficult without proper instruction, even though basic components are same. Throughout its history English has been influenced by the varieties of language. Living languages never remain static. Every language is the product of change and continues to change as long as it is spoken. Only dead languages like ...
The English language has changed considerably in vocabulary and grammatical form, over the centuries, often as a result of language contact. This has shaped a hybrid language with elements borrowed from many different sources. Once used on an extremely local scale and now globally, – albeit in a number of different varieties, dialects and accents, – the English language has arguably seen the biggest transformation of any language in the last fifteen hundred years. In this regard it is often difficult to liken Old English with that spoken today. However, every form of English spoken today has its foundations from the language first brought to the British Isles in the fifth century, and with an educated eye it is possible to identify many similarities between the two.
Graddol, D. (2000) The future of English [online], The British Council, http://www.britishcouncil.org/learning-elt-future.pdf (Accessed 2 March 2012).
Mitchell, B. ‘Inflections’, in Mitchell, B. and Robinson, F.C. (2001) A guide to old english, 6th edn, Padstow, Blackwell Publishing.
North, S. (2012) U214 English: A linguistic toolkit, Unit 4, ‘Word Building’, Glasgow, The Open University.
Seargeant, P. and Swann, J. (2012) U214 English in the world, history, diversity, change, Unit 1, ‘English in the world today’, Routledge/Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Seargeant, P. and Swann, J. (eds) (2012) U214 English in the world, history, diversity, change, Unit 2, ‘A national language’, Routledge/Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Seargeant, P. and Swann, J.(eds) (2012) U214 English in the world, history, diversity, change, Unit 3, ‘A colonial language’, Routledge/Milton Keynes, The Open University.
Seargeant, P. and Swann, J. (eds) (2012) U214 English in the world, history, diversity, change, Unit 4, ‘A global language’, Routledge/Milton Keynes, The Open University.
The global spread of English over the last 50 years is remarkable. It is unprecedented in several ways: by the increasing number of users of the language, by its depth of permeation [“pE:mI’eISn] into societies and its range of functions. There is a model consisting of 3 circles proposed by B.B. Kachru in 1982 in order to describe regional varieties of English. The 1st or inner circle ...
Shakespeare, W. (2008) Romeo and Juliet: (2009 Edition) Oxford School Shakespeare, Oxford, Oxford University Press.
The Open University (2012) U214 Worlds of English, ‘DVD 1: English in the world’, [2.1] Milton Keynes, The Open University, DVD00787
The Open University (2012) U214 Worlds of English, ‘DVD 1: English in the world’, [3.1] Milton Keynes, The Open University, DVD00787